One of the major questions you face when you get married — right after “Do you want to marry this person?” and “Wait, flowers cost HOW MUCH?” — is “Will you change your name?” It’s a difficult question to deal with, as it carries all sorts of historical, political, and personal baggage, and it seems like everyone has an opinion on the subject (an opinion they’re not shy about telling you, in depth, all the time). As fraught as the “Will I or Won’t I?” question can be, it’s also a pretty cool thing, if you think about it: After all, we don’t get any say in our names when we’re born. As adults, we always have the option of changing our names, of course, but most of us don’t take the time to really think about it seriously. Getting married — and having to face that question head on — is a rare opportunity for you to really think about what you want to be called and to choose your own name. Even if you choose to keep the name you already have, you’re still getting to make a conscious decision about how you identify yourself.
And that’s the thing — regardless of what other people have to say about the matter, your name is really your choice. It’s a totally personal decision, and no one has the right to judge you for it. If you choose to take your spouse’s name, awesome! If you choose to keep your maiden name, good for you! (Although, can we agree that “maiden name” is a deeply flawed term?) If you decide to do something in the middle, fantastic! Whatever feels right to you is exactly what you should do.
That said, there are a few things you need to consider when deciding whether to change names. Read on for seven things you should think about before you take the plunge:
All your options
The “What’re you gonna do with your name?” question isn’t
only a matter of choosing between your current name and your spouse’s; you
actually have a
number of options to consider:
- Keeping your maiden name.
- Taking your new spouse’s name.
- Taking your spouse’s name and using your maiden name as a middle name.
- Hyphenating your maiden name and your spouse’s name.
- Merging the two names together to create a new name. (For example, my and my husband’s names — “Rutherford” and “Morrison” — could be combined to make “Morrisford” or Rutherson.” Or “Morruthisersonford.” You know, elegant.)
- Adopting totally new name. (Have you and your new husband or wife always wanted to be “the Awesomesauce family”? Here’s your chance!)
It may seem shallow, but most of us want a name that we
think sounds good. If you don’t like your name, and you do like your spouse’s,
that’s a totally valid reason to make the change. Conversely, if you love your name and you’re spouse’s
moniker is a big ol’ meh, then you should feel totally free to keep your
name as is. (And if your name really is that much cooler that your new
spouse’s, maybe he or she will want to consider taking yours?). Aesthetics also
matter if you’re considering hyphenating or combining names. You and your S.O.
may both have kickass names, but they might just not work well together. You
may like the idea of hyphenating, but if you don’t actually like the
name you’ll end up with, then don’t do it.
Are you in a profession that relies heavily on name
recognition? Have you built up a significant professional reputation under your
maiden name? It’s important to think about how changing your name could affect
your professional life. If, for example, you’re a writer with a significant
résumé under your maiden name, you’ll need to think about how changing your
name could affect the audience you’ve built up. Will you lose readers if your
name is different? If you’re a real estate agent, will changing your name
confuse potential customers? In that case, you may want to consider keeping
your maiden name or retaining it as a middle name or part of a hyphenated name.
When you change your name, there are certain practical considerations to take into account — they’re not romantic, but they are necessary. Ask yourself, Is your name change going to cause confusion? Will it be inconvenient? As you can probably tell by my byline, I chose to hyphenate my name; while I don’t regret the decision, there are a number of annoyances that come with having a really long, two-parter name (For example, computer systems can get confused, and having to spell it our for people is a pain). It’s not enough to make me regret my decision, but if I knew then what I know now, I’m not sure I’d make the same choice.
The name changing process itself.
The process you go through when you change your name upon
marriage varies from state to state, so it’s important to find out how your
state manages things. You should also check on what kinds of names and changes
are allowed to happen through marriage documents. In most states, the name
changing process is streamlined for people who are tying the knot (When I got
married, for example, I simply had to write my new name on my marriage
license). However, not
all states allow people to blend names or choose completely new names this
way, and many don’t allow for men to change their names via marriage licenses
(In 2013, a man
in Florida was even accused of fraud by the state DMV for attempting to
take his wife’s name). In these cases, you would be required to petition for a
legal name change the traditional way, which could require appearing in court
and publishing your intention in the newspaper. Not impossible, by any means,
but you should know what procedures you’re up against before you make your
Your plans for any future children.
One thing to consider is how your decision about your name
will affect your children, should you choose to have them. It’s traditional for
kids to get their father’s surname, but of course you have other options in naming your children — they can also inherit hyphenated names or their
mother’s names. So when you’re thinking about your name, consider how
it will mesh with the rest of your (future) family. If you are dead-set
on you, your spouse, and your kids all having the same name, then you and your
partner need to discuss how you want that to happen. Will one of you take the
other’s name? Will you hyphenate? Or, are you simply not bothered by you or
your partner having a different last name from your child’s? Any choice here is
totally valid, but, whatever you choose, you want to game it out so that you
don’t get years down the road and then realize that you wish you’d done things
Ask: What does your name mean to you? What do you want your name to represent going forward?
Choosing your name — whether that means choosing to change or to stay the same — is a deeply personal decision that no one else can make for you. Yes, there are all sorts of practical considerations to take into account, but at the end of the day it’s really a question of how you, personally, feel about your name and what it represents to you. For some people, the names they get from their parents are sources of pride, representing roots to their heritage and their pasts. For others, those names may be marred by difficult histories that they would rather leave behind.
I chose to change my name, it was because I wanted my name to reflect the major
change that was happening in my life, as well as the new family that my husband
and I were creating. But I can easily see that for someone else, a name could
mean something entirely different. Another woman, for instance, might feel that
retaining her maiden name is a way of maintaining a connection to her family,
or even of continuing the family line. Or she might feel that keeping her name
is a way to assert her own independent personhood, even as she enters into a
new partnership. I think the key is to think long and hard about what your name
means to you and what you want it to mean in the future, and then go with your
gut. Whatever you choose, no one has a right to judge you. After all, it’s your
name. You just do you.